Behind a table filled with sheets and pages of signatures of people petitioning for an MRI unit in the new Portage District General Hospital construction project, MLA Jeff Bereza is overwhelmed at the support of his lobby efforts. 

He was contacted by Portage doctors to push for the addition, noting the best time to see this settled is right now while the hospital is under construction. 

"Citizens from all over signed the petition, and I'm going to say Central Plains and further. We're getting petitions daily. Thousands of names are signed now to this petition and when you think about it, the number of people who are affected or that need an MRI. A perfect example of that was last Monday (May 20) night. I spoke to the Manitoba Métis Federation about the MRI. One of the questions I asked them (and there are about 120 people in the room); I said, 'How many of you have had an MRI or are waiting on an MRI?' And it shook me. Probably 80 per cent of the people in that room had either had an MRI or were waiting for an MRI."

He notes an MRI in our region is something we can't do without, adding that it's not a partisan issue. 

"It is a thing for the area and not only the area, but when I look at the amount of MRIs in other provinces of Canada, we need the MRI here. We're sitting about halfway down the pack as far as the amount of MRIs in our population. But the issue is, because Manitoba is so vast, there are so many people who can't get to appointments. There are so many people who have missed appointments because of the weather. Having one here in Portage where we're centrally located could help that. But the other thing that could help, as well. is Southport Aerospace."

Bereza says the beautiful landing area just south of Portage can take 20 to 30 MedEvac flights per day. 

"They're people who maybe could never get here. They have the Barker Building out there that is set up like a hotel that people could stay in, if there were family and friends who were coming. But from Southport Aerospace to that new hospital, is two or three kilometres. Isn't it better to come to a smaller community to feel safe? The whole idea behind an MRI is that it's a diagnostic service that can, hopefully, catch an issue early on so that something can be looked after. That will help the healthcare system. It won't be such a burden on the healthcare system."

He notes having to wait makes a diagnosis late, leading to possibly more sickness, causing the healthcare system more money.

"First of all, please keep signing these petitions and I will keep reading them out every day that I can in the Manitoba Legislature. This is not falling on deaf ears and we need to make sure that we're all working together -- the whole area out, and everybody around -- to ensure that this MRI comes to Portage la Prairie. We're into the thousands for people that have signed. The people who have signed are from all over Manitoba."

Bereza says no negative feedback has been provided whatsoever. Signatures from Winnipeg and Gladstone are included.

"I asked some of the people from Winnipeg, 'Well, you have an MRI in there.' They said with the wait times; even one more MRI can cut those wait times. We will continue as a government to continue to work as hard as possible to ensure that we're seeing an MRI in Portage la Prairie."

Bereza says other MLAs are also reading petitions in the legislature daily. 

"I have had some discussions with the Health Minister that have been very good. They're listening and we just have to continue to keep the minister involved in this, as well. This is non-partisan issue and it's good for all Manitobans. So again, whether you're liberal, PC, NDP, or Green Party, it doesn't matter when you need an MRI. Political stripes don't matter. It doesn't check your political persuasion."

He adds there are 35 or 36 of the doctors who signed a letter and sent one to him. He remained in contact with them every week, if not daily. 

"They've been a tremendous amount of support. Any information that I need on an MRI, technically, they're giving me the because they're the experts. They're the ones who know it and they're the ones who are pushing and saying we need it here."

Bereza responds to the thought that a portable MRI was discussed several months ago.

"Thanks to the docs here, they've helped me out with this. The one thing with the portable units is power-wise. MRIs take a tremendous amount of power. Whether it's a mobile one or a stationary unit, they still take the same amount of power. The nice thing is, we've got power right from the street to the new hospital. It's being built now. It's being built new. Now's the time to do it."

He adds it should be part of our hospital, like a dialysis machine; handy for those with needs that the unit will facilitate.  

Petition signatures are still welcome after they were previously noted to have ended Friday, May 31.